One of the things about being a mother, and particularly a mother to four children, is that it defines who you are to other people. The moment you confess to parenthood you open yourself up to the judgement of others - from the glowing, usually unwarranted, praise at your ability to conceive, through the well-meaning advice of friends and family, to the looks and comments of those who clearly think that you have no right to be a parent at all.
For a long while, that was just fine. I was just as impressed by my ability to conceive, equally condemning of my failures to get mothering right. And why would I ever want to talk about me, when my children were clearly so much more interesting, intelligent, and downright beautiful than I had any reason to expect.
They still are more interesting, intelligent and beautiful than any other people ever born, but somewhere along the way I realised that I couldn't take the credit for that when I'd never had any real idea how to bring them up. I used to joke that each of them was an experiment and that I still hadn't learned how to do it properly, then I realised it wasn't really a joke. And with that came the recognition that, if I couldn't claim the credit, people's judgement of me had no real basis or reality.
But they carried on assessing my value on the presence of my children.
"I wish I'd achieved something more, something that would leave a mark of my time here on earth"
"Oh, but you've got four interesting, intelligent, beautiful children - you should be proud of that"
And I was. I am. Except...there was a part of me that wanted to be just me.
So it got to the stage, when I met new people, that my kids weren't the first thing I mentioned. I waited until people had formed at least a vague impression of me, before I made a slight, casual, reference to their existence. When I started writing this blog, it was a while before I wrote about any of them; I didn't want to be viewed in that particular way, I didn't want to be labelled a 'mummy blogger'.
And two years ago, when my grandson came along, despite being as pleased as possible, and totally overawed by him and the fact that I have a grandchild, I made only a passing reference to his birth, lost in a longer post about Formula 1 and football.
Then two months ago, my first grand-daughter, Penny-Rose, was born. Since then, I've gradually realised that my views have changed. I find myself wanting to talk about her, and the others, more and more often.
Working full time, I don't get to see her nearly enough, but I saw her this weekend. She is already beautiful and I have no doubt she will turn out to be interesting and intelligent too. So I sat there holding her, singing long-remembered rhymes and talking to her in that high-pitched, over-animated, way. I grinned inanely when she gave me a first real smile, just as I did with her mother so many years ago and as I did so, the years fell away. I was twenty again, excited and petrified that I had a baby to love and care for, knowing nothing about being a mother, but also knowing that it was the best thing I could or would ever do.
I still want to achieve something in my life, I still want to be judged for the mark I leave behind of my time here on earth, I'd love people to think that I'm interesting, intelligent and beautiful. But if that doesn't happen, and there's every chance it won't, then how can I possibly think it's a bad thing for my worth to be assessed for the presence here of my children - Claire, Gerard, Charlie, Megan, my grand-son Eddie and now my new grand-daughter Penny-Rose?
As a grand-mother, I have the chance to experiment all over again, an opportunity to have the slightest influence on the person she'll turn out to be. And who knows? I might even learn something this time.